Monday, August 26, 2013

Davies' Prescience

A. Powell Davies (1902-1957) served as minister of All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington until his untimely death. In that prestigious pulpit he became one of the most well known liberal, progressive voices in the country on a host of issues. His sermons were regularly reported in the press and his packed services attracted even members of the Supreme Court and Congress.

Near the end (p 231) of his splendid biography, A. Powell Davies and His Times (Skinner House Books, 1990), author George Marshall wrote this paragraph: "The issues of church and state in the postwar world were fought on three fronts: the requests for public funds for parochial or religious education, government recognition of the Vatican, and the question of applying Catholic medical ethics to public policy and administration." How prescient! Let's look at these three areas of concern.

1. The campaigns for diverting public funds to church-run schools got well under way in the 1960s, with 27 state referenda on the matter from coast to coast between 1966 and 2012, numerous court cases, school voucher or tax-credit neo-voucher measures passing only in states where voters were denied the opportunity to say yea or nay (Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Louisiana, North Carolina, etc), and opinion polls (such as the Gallup/PDK poll reported in August 2013) showing overwhelming public opposition to match the results of the referenda.

2. Ronald Reagan and Congress finally in 1984 granted diplomatic recognition to the Vatican (Holy See), making just one church the beneficiary of such US government recognition. Since Davies' time the Holy See has become the only religious Permanent Observer at the UN, a position it has consistently used to block or impede international action on women's rights and overpopulation, with painfully obvious impact on the resource depletion and climate change problems.

3. Since the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling the drive to apply the Catholic hierarchy's (note that I use the word "hierarchy" rather than Catholic people's) medieval medical ethics to public policy and administration, a  matter that cannot have escaped anyone's attention. (For a devastating in-depth critique of the Vatican's take on medical-sexual-women's ethics see German Catholic theologian Uta Ranke-Heinemann's book Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven: Women, Sexuality and the Catholic Church [Doubleday, 1990]. See also Catholics for Choice's journal Conscience [2013, No.2.].)

So, well over a half century ago this far-sighted minister-lecturer -writer put his finger on three of the most important controversies facing us in America today.

Edd Doerr, President, Americans for Religious Liberty (

No comments: